There have been lots of professional car reviews of the Corolla, and not surprisingly, what they say is generally what I’ve experienced. Utterly reliable, affordable to run and delivers middle of the road motoring. Or as the Dog and Lemon Guide put it, the Corolla is ‘a moderately stylish consumer appliance’.
As background, after selling my Mazda MX-5 (NC) due to a lack of off-street parking (a canvas top and dark paint didn’t mix well with Australian heat and drivers), I needed a reliable compact hatch to get out of the city. Below are a few things that I think are worth sharing from my ownership experience.
The handling is somewhat of a surprise with the steering being quite sharp and having decent turn-in feel. At speed on open roads the car feels quite stable for a light hatchback. As noted in professional reviews, the torsion beam rear suspension holds on well enough but does get a little skittish when you’re really pushing it over poor surfaces.
On dirt roads the car is a little more stable than I expected, over proper corrugations the rear end can be somewhat floaty. This isn’t a significant criticism as I’m sure the Toyota engineers didn’t imagine their little hatchback being regularly used on dirt roads in far western NSW. Speaking of driving in remote areas, the Levin SX and ZR have a space-saver tyre unlike the lower grades which are equiped with a full-sized spare tyre. The reasoning for this certainly isn’t space as a full-sized 17-inch wheel and tyre can fit comfortably in the tyre well…
The engine sounds like a vacuum. It is totally adequate and not much more. Over my ownership it returned 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres with a 50:50 split of rural and city driving. That figure was achieved with roofracks always fitted, and when heading to rural areas a bike was typically on top. Without the added wind resistance of the bike and roof racks you’d likely be seeing fuel use in mid sixes. The manual gearbox is fine enough with a slightly high clutch take up point.
It is generally a practical car that is well suited to two adults with an occasional friend or two coming along for a trip. Legroom for two people who are six foot and over - sitting one behind the other - is fine for city trips, but travel for any time longer and complaints arise. Compared to other cars in the class the boot is a little on the small size but you can easily drop the rear seats for extra space.
I’ve personally found the ride and noise levels are a little harsher than expected. I assume this is due to the combination of the larger wheels of the ZR and less permeable surfaces within the interior (the ‘leather’ seats and glass roof). Closing the blind over the glass roof does help to reduce interior noise levels. Driving a rental spec Corolla of the same vintage with smaller wheels, cloth seats and no glass roof was a quieter experience.
The Levin ZR grade has quite a few bits of helpful technology over the lower models, particularly the keyless entry and start function along with the auto headlights and auto high beam. Other equipment such as the heated seats and auto climate control are nice to have, but personally these are not worth the price difference when sold new. Now used, the minimal price difference makes this model preferable over the more popular Accent Sport. If you can find a Levin ZR that is a thousand or so more, buy it.
Running costs have been excellent, and were one of the key reasons for purchasing a Corolla. Over my period of ownership the standing costs of the car have totalled $44.32 per week. I’ve considered standing costs being registration, insurance, servicing, tyres, road side assistance and any other minor repairs. Insurance was reasonable even when factoring on-street parking, servicing at Toyota dealers averaged well under $300 per visit and replacing the gear knob that had worn out from the wreckers was very cheap.
Overall, I’d say that a Corolla of this era isn’t going to excite you but I have found it to be totally dependable, comfortable and economic to own all while being moderately stylish.